Gun dog. Easing off the training, giving him choices.

Gun dog Black Lab Bentley is extremely well-behaved and polite, an absolute delight.

The young dog seems, however, careful. He follows anyone who gets up to walk about, looking worried. He can be jumpy.

Gun dog training

gun dogHis young lady owner is very conscientious indeed. She is keen to make a good gun dog out of him and is very disciplined with the training. Each family member helps her by walking him and they are well-trained too – very keen to help. All walks include training sessions.

The girl voiced concern that if she follows my behaviour route, Bentley’s training may go downhill.  I suspect that easing right back on the gun dog training and giving Bentley more choice will instead enhance their training sessions.

Continue reading…

Fearful of People Despite Puppy Socialising

Stunning seven month old Chow Chow Chai is fearful of people. Sometimes the best laid plans simply go wrong.

Very carefully socialised.

Chow has become fearful of peopleI can’t fault her young owners. From the start they have done everything by the book. Then, sometime between four and eight weeks ago she became fearful of people.

They simply can’t trace what could have changed her so dramatically. They can however pinpoint that it was something during this four-week period. She would have been in her fifth or sixth month.

Their superb vet likes her to come in every month, no charge. All they do is put her on the table and keep her used to being handled, examined and weighed. They give her treats. She was due for her monthly visit last week.

Five weeks ago however, the last time they had taken her, they got her to the door and she didn’t want to enter. Once in, she was frantic, scared, leaping onto them, terrified of the other people in there. A different dog from the previous time.

Why so suddenly fearful of people?

All I can think of is that something happened that was huge to her but that her humans hadn’t noticed; that it had coincided with a fear period.

It makes me think back to when I was a child of about seven years old. I was in a group of people along with my mother, and something happened. It traumatised me to the extent that I shut it out until counselling unearthed it years later.  I could remember what we were doing before, but I had a blank period of time. I since asked my mother what it could have been and she had no idea.

What I found out seems very trivial now and I understand why my mother hadn’t even noticed. It had affected all my childhood.

I think it must be the same with young dogs when something happens at just the wrong time. The dog may, or may not, remember just what happened. To us it could seem so meaningless that we hadn’t even noticed. To the dog it’s life-changing.

In addition, as she matured some of the reported breed characteristics may have begun to surface: ‘…..can be aloof …….and downright suspicious of strangers. But for the right person, he’s a fiercely loyal companion’.

Chai is extremely attached to the man. (Interestingly, though initially she barked at me, when he left the room she stopped. Protective, maybe).

Who could be behind the door?

My questions unearthed that Chai had become particularly scared of entering into places. She is now so fearful of people that I believe it’s because she can’t see who might be the other side of the door.

A few days ago she had refused to go into the pet shop where she had been before. They didn’t insist, brought her home and called me.

I could see and hear how scared of me she was as I opened the gate into their high-fenced garden. I shut it again and waited for someone to come and help her then let me in.

Now they will do everything they can to help their beautiful fluffy dog become less fearful of people. People should be good news and not scary.

People-watching.

They will help her to associate people with only good things.

Recently, in order to control her, they have begun using a slip lead which tightens up if she pulls. Sometimes she is so desperate to avoid an approaching person she may try to run into the traffic.

She will feel more fearful of people when trapped on a tight lead. To make matters worse, just when she should be associating people with good things, the lead tightens. She will feel discomfort, pain even.

They will now get a harness and longer leash. With the lead fastened both on the back and the chest, they will have all the control they need without causing any discomfort.

They will stand at the entrance to their drive and ‘people-watch’. Her lead will be long and loose so at any time she feels fearful, she can retreat up the drive.

She first will be taught that looking at a person from a comfortable distance (to her) will bring her food.

They will then build this technique into walks, beginning early in the morning when there are few people about. They won’t walk her in busy places or at busy times until she is ready. It is only a short way to go to fields where they let her off lead.

Doorways into buildings

They will work on taking her through doorways into buildings, starting with their helpful vets. They will go together. The man, to whom she’s most bonded, can go in first and sit down. He will check the coast is clear of people for now.

Letting a little time elapse so Chai both feels she has choice and is also missing the man, the lady will then take her in. With the man inside already it’s pretty certain Chai will willingly walk in. Then they can then come out and do it the other way around – lady in first.

This technique can be worked on many times and in different places.

They will lock the garden gate so people can’t simply walk in – and put a bell on it. Chai will no longer be allowed to feel vulnerable in the garden with someone able to walk straight into what should be her safe place.

It is quite heartbreaking when a puppy, despite such dedicated socialising and habituating to life, suddenly becomes unaccountably fearful of people or other dogs.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Chai. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Second Fear Period Maybe

Second fear period and bad timing could be involved.

The couple have two beautiful Labradors – black William and golden Sam.

Possibly Samson's behaviour changed due to second fear period

Sam

They can’t understand how the two dogs have turned out so differently when they both came from the same breeder. They say they have treated them both the same.

But have they?

William is now two-and-a-half years old and Sam fourteen months.

They had taken William to puppy classes. They carried him around shops before he could be safely put down. He went most places with them so was well habituated to daily life; all his experiences with other dogs had been good ones.

William is also a placid character which is just as well because soon after they got Sam at eight weeks old, all the boisterous play brought his elbow problems to light and he had an operation on each, resulting in restricted exercise for many weeks.

When Sam became too rough he never told him off. In fact, if he became impatient it was he who was scolded. They realise now that they should have instead have been teaching Sam to play nicely and when enough was enough.

Sam, totally different to William, is scared of anything new. This fear of new things applies particularly to new dogs. Because of the circumstances, Sam not been habituated and socialised at an early age in the way William had.

William

William

Up until eight or nine months of age he had been fine. Then, suddenly, he became reactive. Why should he have changed so quickly?

He had never been like this before apart from, perhaps, the over-boisterous play with William at home. He hadn’t been like this before going to classes. Was it coincidence? Had the first classes coincided with his second fear period?

There he was with a number of dogs he’d not met before in a situation which he could have found very stressful for several reasons.

The dog trainer eventually suggested removing him from the class due to his being too pushy, excitable and noisy.

It was traditional gun dog training and so the methods may well anyway have been stressful to sensitive a dog, particularly if coinciding with that short second fear period. One example of this now outdated training method is a jerk on the slip lead to make the dog walk to heel. Basically, he has to walk to heel to avoid pain, rather than being taught to walk to heel for reward and encouragement.

If the first scary training occasions indeed happened to have coincided with Sam’s short second fear period, a two to three-week period in adolescence, it could have had a huge effect on his future feelings towards new dogs.

It is pure conjecture of course and can never be proved.

So, the couple need help with Sam’s over-excitability when seeing another dog, particularly a dog he doesn’t know. He can be very pushy and intimidating but nothing worse until a couple of weeks ago. He pinned a young Cocker Spaniel down, terrifying it. There was a lot of noise but fortunately no damage. One just has to hope that this wasn’t during the smaller dog’s second fear period also.

Then there was another incident a few days ago. It’s getting worse – as things do.

The wagging tail and excitability he displays upon seeing another dog doesn’t necessarily mean happiness. It’s arousal of some sort. A human equivalent might be someone who is all over a person they have met for the first time, wild with excitement and hugs and forcing them to have a cup of tea even if they don’t want one. I wouldn’t call this friendliness myself, I would call it being over-anxious and trying to get some control over the situation.

Changing things around for Sam.

The slip lead causes discomfort when he pulls. Because of the slip lead, when he strains towards another dog he will be feeling some degree of pain. Is pain something we want him to associate with dogs he doesn’t know? No – the very opposite in fact.

From now, in a controlled way, he will associate something especially good with seeing another dog that he doesn’t know. It will be something so special that Sam won’t get it any other time. (What the special thing is has been chosen specifically to suit Sam).

He will learn to walk on a loose lead with a little freedom away from the human’s left leg! Goodbye slip lead strangulation and Hello suitable harness with a longer training lead hooked at the chest.

Instead of charging up to any dog he sees when off lead, playing if the dog is familiar and overwhelming or intimidating it if it not, he will now always touch base with his human first. He needs to be taught to do this through constant repetition. His otherwise good recall has to be even better. They will call him back at random throughout walks and make it very worthwhile to do so in terms of food or fun. The lead will be put on at random throughout the walk so not associated with the appearance of another dog or with the end of the walk.

Currently when he’s on lead and another dog appears, they continue to walk Sam towards it, slip lead tight, perhaps making him sit, and taking physical control of him. He must feel trapped.

In future when another dog appears they will do their best to make choices based on Sam’s own body language. They will increase distance until he shows that he is comfortable. At that comfortable distance they will start to show him that the presence of a dog he doesn’t know BRINGS ON THE GOOD STUFF.

Whether or not his fears are connected to an unpleasant experience around unfamiliar dogs during the sensitive second fear period, they can now start to reverse this.

Sadly it takes a lot longer to undo damage than it does to cause it.

Feedback five months later: We’ve been diligently working on building his confidence and focus on us with the steps you helped us put in place. Unfortunately last week he injured himself and needed stitches. On 2 visits to the vets for stitches and and dressing change, he has remained focused on me despite being alert to another dog in the waiting room on our way in. Obviously still appearing worried but no lunging, growling or barking. I know this doesn’t mean he’s cured, but it was such welcome relief and huge positive step forward. I’m delighted.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sam and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Gun Dog Training or Force-Free?

Whilst harsh training methods may well Rufuswork in the moment, there is usually future fallout of some sort.

I may well get some people’s backs up, but here goes!

Dogs that are specifically trained and used as gun dogs are to my mind, a commodity. These dogs are trained specifically to do a job, they are often kept alone out in kennels and some have never seen the inside of a house. Usually they are very ‘obedient’ – possibly they dare not be otherwise.

(Please note that there are becoming more and more exceptions to this sweeping statement as gradually some gun dog breeders and schools are beginning to catch up with modern training methods).

There is no argument that many working dogs are a lot more fulfilled than those family pets who may be either left alone all day or over-spoilt. Many working dogs are trained positively and are treated as valued members of a family or at least have a close relationship with their handler. Assistance dogs and sniffer dogs come to mind in particular.

I have a gun dog breeding and training business near to me with probably around twenty dogs and in fact I got my cocker spaniel from there (that’s another story).  I saw first hand the dogs’ environment. Most of the dogs seemed submissive in general and a bit fearful of me when I stood by their caged areas. There were no bouncy, friendly welcomes that one might have expected from Labradors and Spaniels.

I was given a demo of the skills of three 4-6 month old dogs and they were certainly very obedient and were 100% focussed on the man even at that age. To be fair, they seemed to enjoy what they were doing but I guess their life didn’t hold a lot else by way of interaction with humans.

In saying their dogs are used as a commodity, I absolutely don’t include people who have family dogs that happen to take them to gun dog training classes because of their breed, like the owners of Rufus and of Bramble who I went to a few months ago. These conscientious dog owners do so because they believe it is the best for their dog on account of what he’s bred for.

A couple of years ago at Crufts there was a gun dog display of dogs trained to do gun dog things using positive reinforcement and it was a joy to watch these enthusiastic dogs – dogs that weren’t afraid of making mistakes. It proved it’s possible.

Rufus began with normal puppy classes. He met lots of people and lots of dogs – and became a happy and confident adolescent.  He then went to gun dog training for a year.

I don’t believe it’s purely coincidence that now, over a year since they stopped the classes, Rufus has become an increasingly nervous dog. The family members who attended the classes with him try to maintain the ‘firm’ approach and the other person lacks the same sort consistency and discipline, resulting in confusing mixed messages for the dog.

It’s like Rufus is waiting to be told what to do – external control. He doesn’t have much self-control.

Dogs that are trained to think for themselves using clicker or other positive reinforcement methods aren’t afraid to make mistakes. They become inventive and try different ways of getting their rewards and making us happy because they know they won’t be scolded or punished if they happen to get it wrong. The key to teaching a dog is not about making them do what we want, but making them WANT to do what we want.

It’s a big step for Rufus, now nearly four years old, to start thinking for himself. With clicker a ‘formally’ trained dog can take a long time to ‘get it’ before experiencing the fun of experimenting with what will bring results and what will not. If Rufus’ family persist they will eventually get a breakthrough. Then the possiblities of what he can learn for himself are boundless.

Gone now is the punishing and uncomfortable slip lead – like a choke chain, what can possibly be the purpose of this as opposed to a normal collar and lead, or a harness, apart from causing discomfort if a dog pulls?

We took turns to walk Rufus around outside on a harness with long lead clipped to the chest and he walked beside us like a different dog, round in circles, back and forth – a dream. If he wanted to stop for a sniff, why not?

In this comfortable state of mind, he is much more likely to be chilled when encountering unknown dogs or if a moped buzzes past.

Rufus is at the dawn of a new life, and his family will now work in unison to give him back his old confidence.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rufus, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).